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Editorial: D.C. needs to keep funding program to reduce teen pregnancy

Somebody explain why this makes sense: The federal government is planning to cut off funding for efforts to reduce teenage pregnancy – including in Buffalo, where the need is great. The city’s rate of teen pregnancy is nearly twice as high as the state’s overall rate.

It’s not just Buffalo that is facing the funding cut, though not many places need the help as badly. The federal Office of Adolescent Health last month notified urban teen pregnancy programs across the country that their funding would be eliminated at the end of June 2018. The consequence – and it’s a likely one – is that children will be born to more girls and young women, creating problems for parent, child and whole communities, as well. It’s shortsighted and foolish.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the Office of Adolescent Health, had authorized the program through 2020 as part of its Teen Pregnancy Prevention initiative. But for reasons that remain unclear, the Trump administration has decided to end the effort prematurely.

Some suspect the motivation could stem from a devotion to abstinence-only education. That isn’t enough. Kids are continually bombarded with sexual messages through television, movies, the internet and social media. They are encouraged to do what their hormones urge but what their brains and bank accounts are not prepared to handle. The “just say no” approach may work for some, but anyone who remembers being young understands the limits of an adolescent’s ability to account for consequences.

Others may see it as a cost-cutting measure. If so, it is of the cut-off-your-nose-to-spite-your-face model – that is, one that will provoke far worse and more expensive consequences in the years and decades to come. Young mothers may quit school, leading to what can become a lifelong reliance on public support. Children are more likely to grow up in poverty, expecting that they will follow the model of family life most familiar to them.

Taxpayers will pay more for this than they would have by educating young men and women about sex, including how to avoid pregnancy both through birth control and abstinence. This isn’t a difficult concept.

The strange thing is that the program appears to have been working. Teen pregnancy rates have been dropping across the state, including Buffalo, every year since 2009. Even still, Buffalo’s rate remains far higher than the state average or even the upstate rate.

Consider: In 2014, 61 out of every 1,000 Buffalo girls aged 15 to 19 became pregnant, according to the Erie County Department of Health. The rate elsewhere was: Erie County, 32 out of 1,000; upstate New York, 22 out of 1,000; and statewide, 33 out of 1,000.

Those are disastrous numbers for this city and especially for the women who become prematurely pregnant and their offspring. They can’t be wished away. Overcoming the powerful forces encouraging young men and women to have sex will take work, supported by public dollars.

Buffalo’s congressmen and the state’s senators need to persuade Health and Human Services to back off this plan. In particular, Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, must educate his friend President Trump about the dangerous and counterproductive costs of walking away from this problem.

This isn’t the federal government wasting money on some loony program. Taxpayers aren’t being fleeced. If the administration – or anyone else – wants to suggest how the program could be made even better, they should speak up. But no one should kid themselves about the painful price we will all pay if Washington turns its back.

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